Dietician, Kristi Spence, cuts through the hype surrounding energy drinks.
Energy drinks have permeated and saturated the beverage market. Various brands with catchy names and flashy ads target teens and young adults with promises of an added boost, improved performance, or heightened concentration. Their surge in popularity, as evidenced by an additional 3 million young consumers from 2003 to 2006, has made them ubiquitous and easy to find. Grocery stores, vending machines, and convenience stores all stock a large supply. Understanding what you are ingesting may cause you to think twice before whipping out your wallet or popping the top on your next can.
Energy drinks combine sugar with herbal supplements and caffeine and come in various sizes from an 8oz (typical serving size) can to jumbo-sized 24-oz cans. Most people view a single can as a serving but to the body there is a big difference between 8 and 24 ounces. More calories, more sugar, more caffeine.
Let’s take a deeper look…
With some pocket change and a willingness to spend money on expensive beverages, energy drink companies target a younger demographic (16-29 years) with promises of improved athletic performance, increased concentration, and quite simply, more energy. While research shows that caffeine, in small doses, may provided an added performance boost for adult athletes, research is lacking in kids, and the caffeine may do more harm than good. Caffeine impacts the body’s sleep/wake cycle, which may increase fatigue, delay sleep, and prevent much-needed recovery in an athletic population. High levels of caffeine can be dangerous and overdosing on caffeine can cause headaches, irregular heartbeats, dehydration, vomiting, and in severe cases, seizures. It is recommended that kids keep caffeine intake under 100mg/d, and adults should reign in caffeine consumption to no more than 400mg/d. Pregnant women may want to target a more modest 300mg/d. The FDA regulates the amount of caffeine in soda (a typical 8oz soda contains about 45mg caffeine); however, no such regulations exist for energy drinks. Caffeine content per 8oz serving can range from 80-300mg
The caffeine in energy drinks comes from added caffeine and/or the naturally caffeine-containing plant-based guarana also known as zoom or Brazilian Cocoa. Additional herbal extracts contained in energy drinks (bitter orange, ginseng, taurine) prompt the myriad health claims. While these compounds have been studied independently as dietary supplements with mixed results (some may cause adverse effects), the amount contained in a single can is not likely to contribute any of the promised benefits.
Another primary ingredient in most energy drinks is processed sugar, which represents empty calories that will not contribute to a nutrient-dense diet. This isn’t helpful for teens or adults. Sugar free varieties are sweetened with artificial sweeteners, like diet sodas, and are often marketed to a female demographic. The caffeine concerns still hold.
Perhaps equally concerning is the behavior and culture associated with energy drinks. Consumption of such beverages often replaces more nutrient-dense choices like milk or a nutrient-rich meal. Missing out on these opportunities increases risk for insufficient intake of several vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, energy drink consumption can be linked with riskier behavior. Most recently, some energy drinks have been banned from certain college campuses. Mixing the stimulating energy drink (caffeine is stimulant) with the depressant of alcohol may negatively impact cardiac function and also further impair judgment.
Remember that because of the herbal extracts, energy drinks are considered dietary supplements and therefore do not fall under the same regulatory standards as traditional food. Aim to be an informed consumer. Be critical of health claims, look at portion sizes, and think about what that energy drink is really going to do for you.
Some Key Points:
• Energy drinks are not replacements for sport drinks. Sport drinks are a combination of water, electrolytes, and sugar, which serves to hydrate, replenish lost nutrients, and refuel an active athlete. Energy drinks contain much higher concentrations of sugar as well as high levels of caffeine. In high doses, caffeine may cause dehydration and too much sugar can upset the stomach of working athletes.
• Instead of popping the top of an “energy” drink, instead consider the following for an added energy boost:
o Incorporate protein into your morning breakfast
o Get more sleep!
o Exercise regularly – even if it is just 30 minutes per day accumulated in 10 minute bursts
o Eat a nutrient-rich, balanced diet
o Incorporate healthy carbohydrates
• While caffeine may help improve concentration in adults, it may also cause nervousness, headache, and irregular or rapid heartbeat. In children, caffeine can lower attention span. Remember that people respond differently to caffeine, and the amount of caffeine contained in some energy drinks is quite high.
For more information contact:
Kristi Spence MS, RD, CSSD
Director of Health & Wellness
Mountain West Dairy Promotion
1213 East 2100 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84106